Category 1
Long Distance

Hi-Ener-G is a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes energy booster we found at Walgreens. Packaged in an attractive square box with a reassuring sunburst on the front, it's the kind of item you could find in any shopping mall in America. Yet it contains many of the same active ingredients as the products for the hipster/organic set. Aside from 200 mg. of something called "standardized" ginseng per caplet (another bit of faux reassurance: "Sure it's full of that weird Chinese stuff called ginseng, but don't worry, we've 'standardized' it for your protection!"), the engine revers are the other ingredients. Hi-Ener-G contains an "herbal blend" of Guarana, Yerba Mate, Gotu Kola, Fo-Ti, Jamaican Ginger, Damiana and Green Tea Extract.

Chi Power
The one non-caffeine blend in the Long Distance Trucker group, Chi Power even says "No Caffeine!" in big letters on the back of the box. Chi Power's secret is that it's packing Ephedrine. After taking one look at the ingredients list, Mirbane, our Pixieish Goth Chick volunteer yelled "Cross-tops! Trucker speed!" Yes, Chi Power capsules are pretty much truckstop power pills, but in gold-embossed Yuppie packaging. Be careful with Chi Power, or any other Ephedrine-based stims. Many people react strongly to Ephedrine, and not in pretty ways. One way to tell if you're one of those people is if you react strongly to over-the-counter allergy and cold preparations such as Contac or Day-Quil. Both of these use ephedrine variants, so if they make you feel at all goofy, just say no to Chi Power. (For more information on ephedrine and recent investigations, call the FDA hotline 1-800-FDA-1088)

Fukola Cola.
The most fun Long Distance Trucker entry, Fukola is sort of a caffeine-laden Jolt Cola clone for the post-nerd crowd. Unlike Jolt, Fukola isn't burdened by the "I'm a programmer and have never seen a naked woman" mythology associated with older product. It fact, Fukola both looks and tastes great. Some of our volunteers who grew up in the South said it reminded them of the local colas you used to be able to find down there, before mass-production gobbled up all the little companies. And it kicks as hard as Jolt any day of the week.

Brain Wash
The other soft drink in the survey, Brainwash packs as stiff a kick as Fukola, but is an acquired taste. A strange brew of all the caffeinated ingredients mentioned earlier, plus dill weed, jalapeno, ginger, echinacea and goldenseal, it's a blood red wake-me-up that sizzles on your tongue like chili pepper champagne. Most of our volunteers couldn't finish an entire bottle, but all recommended giving it a whirl. Chances are you'll love or hate it instantly.

Happy Camper.
Wins the Best of Breed Trophy. Unlike most of the other brews, Happy Camper mixes mild uppers such as Ginseng, Gotu Kola, and Kola Nut with middle-weight downers like Passion Flower and Kava Kava. While items like Hi-Ener-G and its liquid cousin Power Play really got on some of our volunteers' nerves, we had no complaints at all from the Happy Camper contingent.

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Category 2
White Light,
White Heat

Polar Bear Snuff:
No compound we tested came close to the overall relentless popularity of Polar Bear Snuff. Nothing else provided the cortex kick of the white powder in the unassuming little bottle. The biggest difference between Polar Bear and most of other over-the-counter stims we tried was that most of them go through your stomach, as a pill or drink. Polar Bear is a gorgeous white powder that you snort, sniff demurely or pack into your sinuses like cotton wadding. Going straight through your mucus membranes, Polar Bear is an instant rush. And yes, there is probably something of a placebo effect going on, too. The act of laying down lines, chopping them and vacuuming them up through a $100 bill provided by one of our more successful volunteers was all part of the allure of Polar Bear.

The best part is that, unlike cocaine, there's nothing in Polar Bear Snuff to melt your septum. All you'll find in the powder is "caffeine crystals, kava kava, red kirin, ginseng, oil of clove and wintergreen, natural menthol crystals." The wintergreen and menthol really opened up everyone's sinuses, but about half of our volunteers found the taste of Polar Bear unpleasant at the back of their throats. Most went back for seconds, however. The hardiest souls went back for thirds as the effects of Polar Bear, like cocaine, are shorter each time you use it. In fact, a couple of the programmer types in our test group were known to lay down lines of Polar Bear at work and hoover them up before a long day slaving over a hot keyboard.

Ener-B ran a close second to Polar Bear Snuff in popularity, partly for its effects and partly because it was the most peculiar stuff we tested. Ener-B is a gel which delivers a dose of vitamin B-12. You can take it sublingually, squeezing out the red B-12 goo and letting it dissolve under your tongue, or you can squirt the gel right up your nose. Only one of our test group refused to shoot the goo, and she reported that the taste of Ener-B was slightly medicinal, but not bad. It took her longer to feel the effects of the B-12, and the effects seemed milder for her.

For those of us who weren't nasally-challenged, the effects of Ener-B were almost immediate. There was a definite rush of energy after the gel soaked through our mucous membranes, but it was a B-12 rush so there were none of the jitters or nervousness that you can get with caffeine or real speed. While it didn't have the mule kick of Polar Bear Snuff, the Ener-B rush felt like the healthiest energy of all the stims we tried. And at the end of the evening, the little toothpaste tube-shaped packs that held the Ener-B became collector's items. Most people took theirs home.

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Category 3
Marginally Useless

Yohimbe 1000 Plus
Yohimbe 1000 Plus was particularly disappointing. It's allegedly a wildly powerful stimulant and aphrodisiac. The bottle we had was labeled "For Men Only."

Naturally, we fed it to all the women in the group who'd try it. The effects were pretty much nil, though we were able to convince one woman to urinate with the toilet seat up.

Xphoria is a useless kind of herbal Ecstasy, an ersatz version of MDMA. According to the ingredients on the box, it is almost a copy of the Long Distance Trucker drugs, with the addition of Gingko and Nutmeg. Gingko has replaced Ginseng as the wonder herb of the moment. Some allegedly serious studies have claimed that it increases bloodflow to the brain. This might make you dizzy, but in no way does it mirror the effects of Ecstasy. Nutmeg is well-known for having hallucinogenic qualities in the right amounts. Apparently the right amounts are not what's in Xphoria because the only entertainment value of the product for us came from the much-too-earnest Gen X-appeal packaging.

The Legendary Cyclone Cider
This stuff is downright peculiar. Containing nothing more than apple cider vinegar, glycerin, garlic, cayenne, horseradish, ginger root, onion, parsley and Vitamin C, it was quickly dubbed the official White Trash Smart Drug. While it was a complete loser as a stimulant, everyone agreed that it would make an excellent Bloody Mary mix.
What do those exotic herbs have in common? One word: caffeine. And don't be fooled if someone tries to tell you that the active ingredient in, say Guarana, is Guaranine. Guaranine is just caffeine in New Age drag. Which isn't to say that any of this stuff is bad, it's just that when the cheapest of these —Hi-Ener-G—goes for around $10 per 30 caplets, you're being sold instant coffee at designer blend prices. And like any caffeine products, you have to be careful not to OD since they can all cause exactly the same problems as too much coffee: irritability, sleeplessness, heart arrhythmia, sweats, etc. This bunch was the least interesting for our little group to field test, but at least taking them guaranteed everyone got home all right.
illustrations by Claudia Newell

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